I’ve commented a few times on Tom Woods’ show. Now, to be straight, I like the guy. His political ideology more or less matches mine, but we came to it from two totally different starting points. He retains enough of his neoconservative roots to grate on me occasionally. Plus, I think he needs to pull his head out of his theory sometimes and address the real world. In general, you’ll find when libertarians or anarcho capitalists respond to criticisms, they always defend the theoretical free market, when in fact the objections people are raising are to specific events involving specific people and often specific companies or corporations. For example, when someone objects to Wal Mart’s low salaries or business practices, these types will immediately take this as an attack on capitalism and free markets. Here’s the thing though: Wal Mart has nothing to do with free markets.
They are a corporation; that status, its privileges and protections, are created and enforced by the government. They often push healthcare costs, these days usually assumed to be a portion of a person’s compensation, on to… the government, and thus tax payer’s wallets. They have used eminent domain, used the government, to steal land from people to build their stores. They have used the public highway system to their advantage, and to my memory according to some articles well beyond what they pay in taxes for said roads, and who knows if they’re paying anything near what they would pay if the roads were private, as I believe they should be. Which means they are receiving yet another government subsidy. Many of their products are manufactured and imported from countries with which the US does not have free trade, but highly managed and controlled trade, and their size and monetary influence means they essentially get to buy access to goods and cheap labor from the government, which would be available to them and everyone else without the government, but it’s kind of hard to accept that, given travel costs, all the goods currently made offshore are really better off being made there, the division of labor and comparative advantage not withstanding. I mean, in a totally free market, would it really pay to burn thousands upon thousands of gallons of bunker oil in transport ships to bring rubber slippers from China to the US? Maybe, maybe not, the point is the market really isn’t operating in an unhampered fashion, which would be necessary to really know the answer to this question.
So Wal Mart really has jack shit to do with the free market. It’s possible they may not even exist in their current form if markets were free. My guess is a lot of business would be smaller and more dispersed in free markets, but that’s all guess work. In any event, the advent of the mega corporation is a trend facilitated and more often than not subsidized by the government. And mega corporations are tied to the government intimately, but also in a combative fashion at times, because they too are targets. The government has to answer to some degree to the populace, so these companies have to act in such a way, and provide information in such a vein to at least convince people they aren’t the glorified slave owners many really are.
So in this most recent podcast I listened to, Tom had a guest on and they seemed genuinely amazed that people feel like they’re working more hours. The reality is hours worked are a mixed bag in the modern world. But what really got me was their stats, because it was all the usual bullshit I see quoted where exempt employees are quoted as working 40 hours a week. I’ve seen this bullshit in memes put out by teachers I know on Facebook, comparing hours worked in the private sector to them to prove how oh so over worked and underpaid they are, and of course their assumption was that at 40 hours private sector workers drop everything they’re doing and head out for the weekend, never to see their job again for 48 straight hours. This assumption was also voiced by Woods’ guest, Ryan McMaken, when he said, to paraphrase, these days people leave work at 5 PM every day.
The problem with these claims, and most of the stats I’ve seen that ‘support’ them, is that they include exempt employees. Being exempt just means you get paid on a salaried basis on what is presumed by the government to be an on average 40 hour week, and if memory serves this was a part of COBRA. Basically it means your job has a hard time assigning a defined time to it, or you’re at a level where it’s expected that longer, harder, and sometimes odd hours might be required. So your employer, if you’re exempt, doesn’t owe you overtime. You’re supposed to work as needed. But, they’re also supposed to throw some flexibility back your way; you’re not supposed to be punching a clock and having your hours tracked by HR Nazis; you’re assumed to also have some weeks where you work below forty hours; etc. What really happened though, is that employers classified anyone and everyone they possibly could as exempt, and essentially got to ditch a massive amount of overhead for overtime. Many employers – in fact every one I’ve worked for but one – had employees classified as exempt that were in no way supposed to be, and one employer I worked for a while ago actually got busted for this by the DOL, and ended up shelling out a load of back pay in the form of overtime.
Now to the idiots who, as mentioned above, will rush to the defense of the free market which doesn’t exist: Yes, people should be allowed to contract for employment under whatever terms they find acceptable! That is not what is happening here. There are fewer and fewer jobs, employees have less and less power, and these companies are using a government created and enforced legal distinction to not pay people overtime. How many people do you know who, if we did have a free market, a solid honest money, and a surplus of jobs, would jump at the idea of not being paid for their time but to work for an extra 25% to 50% of time with no additional compensation? Yeah, I’m sure everyone would be totally jumping at that opportunity… There would be contractors and people who would not work on a timed basis, I’m sure, but for those people like factory workers, whose jobs will always have productivity measured at least in part on a timed basis, if you think they would just jump en masse at the idea of working ridiculously long hours for nothing in return, you’re fucking nuts.
The point is employers have an incentive to classify people as exempt, and this is especially true if their jobs require consistently longer hours, and when this data is reported it necessarily makes it look like hours worked are way lower than they really are. Most exempt employees I know work 50 to 60 hours a week. Some more, but even if you pick 50 that’s a 25% increase in hours worked over the claimed 40 for a significant portion of the population. That’s not chicken change, and something Mr. Woods and his guest should have addressed before trying to portray the modern work-a-day American as some ungrateful prick who should be thankful his kids don’t have to work in a coal mine to feed the families. Yes, conditions for the average person have improved dramatically, and I credit the market with all of the improvements. Rather, I credit those aspects of the market that are still free. But we do not live in a totally free market, but one which is highly regulated by the government, and through monetary debasement and regulation of the market from root to leaf, companies have devalued labor, and I believe to a far greater degree and in a manner that reaches further than Woods, libertarians, and anarcho capitalists who originate from the right tend to realize. They come in with a heavy supply side/corporatist tinge and they never seem to lose that bias, looking with rose colored glasses on everything corporations do, and running to defend some idealistic theory when people levy criticisms at what real, extant people and corporations have done, which is never in a vacuum but in the government managed market we live in. Hence, why they believe it when Government Mafia backed Corporation A, B, or C, tells them their workforce doesn’t work so many hours, no, not at all… Oh!, those exempt people? Well, maybe they sometimes work more than 40 hours, but trust us, it’s not often… Once more,
The government has massively retarded the advance of working conditions in this country, and governments have done so across the world in general, and just because people aren’t living at pre industrial revolution levels of a poverty anymore does not mean they haven’t been significantly stolen from, or made to bear an enormous opportunity cost by government interventions made in favor of hard lobbying, campaign supporting corporations.
Here’s a link to the page for the show I recently commented on. Like I said, I like Woods and his show, and especially his Contra Krugman show. But he often does shows where he veers off into theory over reality, or where he seems to buy into bad information or some idealized way he thinks things work in the corporate world without seeming to have any grasp on the reality of the situation. He’s an academic who worked hard and, with a little luck, carved out a nice niche for himself and so perhaps he hasn’t had his soul crushed to a significant degree by corporate America to truly grasp how fucked a lot of companies are, he really should try maintaining on a day job. And he’s commented on this in the past with the implication that people should just break into the twenty-first century, and start a blog or something, which to me indicates he’s spending too much time around sales people and get rich quick types. The majority of the people on this planet can’t start a blog and live off of it, or sell agorist chocolates to people in Detroit while getting their food from urban farming. The majority of people on this planet need, and will have, a regular job for a long time to come. A 9 to 5 job, which is really 7 to 7 for many of them while earning them no extra money for those extra hours, and that’s a problem. And then when they listen to Woods and McMaken josh around with each other about how many hours people are working, vs how many hours each listener knows he’s working, he’s going to know right away, or assume, that these guys are largely full of shit. That’s not good if you want the message of markets and freedom to spread.